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Railway strike threatens to become labor-government war

Railway strike threatens to become labor-government war

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Published : 2013-12-24 20:36
Updated : 2013-12-24 20:36

Leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions chant at a news conference Tuesday to denounce Sunday’s police raid on its headquarters. (Yonhap News)

The railway union’s strike continued to grow Tuesday, bringing the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union into the fray as the police sought a detention warrant for its chief Kim Jeong-hoon.

Kim was taken into custody on Sunday during the police’s attempt to arrest railway union leaders from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ headquarters in Seoul.

Although large number of unionists were taken into custody for blocking the police from entering the KTCU office, a detention warrant has been requested for Kim only.

Despite deploying thousands of police officers and spending most of the day on the raid, the railway union leaders were not found at the KTCU office, fueling criticism of incompetence and claims that the Park Geun-hye administration was establishing a police state.

The raid has also prompted the KTCU to declare war against the administration and plans to go on a general strike from Dec. 28 to call for the president’s resignation.

The more moderate Federation of Korean Trade Unions has also declared that it would join the strike, saying that the situation was not limited to the KTCU.

Together, the two umbrella unions amount to about 1.7 million members.

The railway union has staged a general strike since Dec. 9 in protest of state-run train operator KORAIL’s plans to set up a subsidiary to operate a new KTX bullet train route, saying that the measure was a step toward railway privatization.

Passenger train operations have since dropped to about 70 percent of normal levels, while freight train operations dropped to 30.1 percent.

The political parties have also taken up sides in the railway strike union, stepping up their attacks against each other following Sunday’s raid.

“The railway strike, which was aimed at protecting the iron bowl, is becoming a political strike as the forces that deny the election result have formed a combined front with the railway union,” ruling Saenuri Party floor leader Rep. Choi Kyung-hwan said Tuesday. “Iron bowl” is a term referring to vocations with high job security.

He added that the main opposition Democratic Party was the “original” instigator in reforming the railway system, citing related developments from the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations.

“(I) emphasize again that hard-line nongovernmental organizations and the KTCU, which are transforming the railway strike into a campaign to overturn the administration, cannot stand above the law.”

Meanwhile, the DP continued its attack on the government and the ruling party.

“The Park Geun-hye administration is now against the common people. Railway and health care privatization cannot be accepted under any circumstances,” DP floor leader Rep. Jun Byung-hun said.

“President Park Geun-hye’s uncommunicativeness is pushing laborers to the brink. It causes talks to stop, justifies the police forcing their way into the KTCU and becomes the order for oppressing KORAIL workers.”

DP secretary-general Rep. Park Ki-choon also claimed that Park’s plans to offer a special pardon early next year was an attempt at appeasing the public.

Prime Minister Chung Hong-won played down the railway union’s claims of railway privatization, saying that it was not an issue.

“The government has repeated several times its position that the railway will not be privatized. The railway union should stop repeating claims that have already been accepted, and return to work immediately,” Chung said at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

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